CLERGY CORNER: Luke 10:25–37

Posted on 18 May 2017 by LeslieM

You shall love your neighbor as yourself

(Leviticus 19:18 and Mark 12:31 NRSV)

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

Is civility enough? I ask this provocative question in light of a society where civility is lacking and, that being said, it is still not enough, not if we want to change the world for the better.

I was in conversation with a Rabbi in the community where I previously served. We talked about a Coexistence Festival in Sarasota and the topic of tolerance came up. We agreed that interfaith dialogue was an important step in the right direction because we are neighbors coexisting in the same community. Finding common ground in faith is a great way for religious leaders to lead the charge, ecumenically. By the way, “ecumenical” means “community minded.”

Yet, the Rabbi in his wisdom questioned the word “tolerance.” And he asked me a question, which I found to be enlightening: “How would you like it if you heard me say ‘Jeff, I tolerate you?’ Would you feel good inside?” He made a good point. Civility is not enough.

Yet, civility is still lacking. Drive in any grocery parking lot on Saturday. Hesitate one tenth of a second at a green light. Go shopping at the mall in December. Stand in front of somebody in a parade. We have a hard time coexisting in public and we haven’t even got to religion or politics. We literally haven’t even left the parking lot.

While we struggle for civility, a golden rule is shared, shared by many faiths. In our faith it is found in Matthew 7: 12 In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” (NRSV) Treat people the way you want to be treated. This is a good start, but it only takes us to civility. In fact this golden rule is bronze, at best. It isn’t enough. We have gotten to tolerance but we haven’t gotten to love.

Engaged in dialogue, Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment. Aside from the first, to love God, he mentioned the second and he replied: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 and Mark 12:31 NRSV). Now we are getting somewhere. Now we are starting to move the dial of progress in society. Now THIS rule IS golden.

But who is our neighbor? This was another question that was asked of Jesus. I think the person who asked him wanted to hear the answer: “the people I like.” Liking the likeable, loving the loveable, what is remarkable about that? Then Jesus responded to his question not with a short answer but a parable, the parable of the Good Samaritan. This parable was all about liking the unlikeable and loving the unlovable, and finding value in a person from a culture and religion that was despised. Jesus’ answer was anything but comfortable. “Love my neighbor? I don’t even LIKE him.”

Upon further self examination as well as life experience, I have come to a thought. We don’t have to tackle civility before we address the need to love. In fact, if we aspire to love one another as we love ourselves, civility will fall into place.

Tolerance and coexistence are fine, but they are, at best, mediocre aspirations. I don’t want to merely coexist with my neighbor in mutual tolerance. I want to love my neighbor. Love is what moves the dial in the right direction.

Now that we have left the parking lot, we can move into the direction of a mutual existence that is grounded in love. In love, we can dialogue and build ecumenical bridges with people of different faiths. In love, we can engage in political conversations with friends with whom we disagree. In love, we can think twice before we honk at the person who pulls out of his or her parking spot without looking, or cuts us off, or hesitates for more than a second at a green light. Let all that you do be done in love.” (I Corinthians 16:14)

Pastor Gross is a pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, located at 959 SE 6 Ave., Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. For more information, call 954-421-3146 or visit www.zion-lutheran.org.

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